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Windows features OS X should ‘adopt’

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Two months ago, I wrote a list of 10 Classic Features to ‘Bring Back’ to OS X. But Classic MacOS isn’t the only operating system OS X could stand to swipe a few features from. Some of us Mac users also use Windows, either occasionally or full-time at work, and there are a handful of features from that operating system I think Apple should implement in Mac OS X. Here are my Top Nine (not ranked in order of importance):

1. Cut & Paste in Finder

One of the biggest differences between Mac and Windows users is that Mac users typically drag-and-drop their files to move them from one place to another while Windows users cut-and-paste them. Although OS X supports copy-and-paste of items within the Finder, it doesn’t support cut-and-paste and switchers typically find that to be a shortcoming.

The best part about adding this functionality to the Finder is that its presence would not affect those who prefer the drag-and-drop method; they could go on about their business as usual, using Spring-loaded folders, Exposé and such. It’s reminiscent of when the Mac menu bar had to be constantly held down with the mouse button while Windows menus would remain open after a single click-and-release. Apple made it work both ways (try it) and now everyone has what they prefer.

2. Applications Uninstaller

Installing applications on OS X is generally as simple as dragging them to the Applications folder. And uninstalling them is supposed to be just as simple: drag them to the Trash. But there are plenty of files associated with applications that reside within the main or user Library directories in folders like Application Support, Preferences, etc. In the case of iDVD and GarageBand, these external support files can range in the multi-gigabytes. And thus the popular AppZapper was born.

Windows has a built-in Add/Remove Programs capability that is recommended for removing both the application and its associated files strewn around the system (though I’m not making any assertions about its particular qualities). Mac OS X could use a built-in Uninstaller that uses the receipt files generated by an application’s installer to remove an unwanted applications various components (contextual menu item, preference pane, login item, etc.) and provide users with a sense of assurance that an application has truly been uninstalled, rather than its head just being cut off while the rest of its body parts sit lifelessly around the system.

Ideally, Apple should purchase AppZapper, apply its pixie dust (see SoundJam -> iTunes) and make it an included part of Mac OS X for all users.

3. Individual Folder Sharing

Pre-OS X, if you wanted to share files on your Mac with others on a local network, you could right-click on an individual folder and choose Sharing… to set up the folder permissions. That capability is now available in Windows XP (with the standard Windows networking complications, of course). Meanwhile, Mac OS X requires you to move items into your Public folder or the Shared directory – limited functionality that hasn’t been much improved since version 10.1.

I understand that the ease-of-use of System 7’s File Sharing probably can’t be regained due to the complex permissions systems of UNIX and the need to be compatible with Windows networking. But if you can share individual folders at will in Windows, you should be able to do so in Mac OS X. The third-party SharePoints steps up to the challenge, proving both that a solution can be found and that there is a desire for such configurability. But performing such a useful task shouldn’t require seeking out and downloading donation-ware.

4. Remote Desktop Connection

Remote Desktop Connection is a feature included with Windows XP Professional that allows you to remotely control another XP machine that has the remote access features enabled. The Microsoft MacBU even has an OS X client of Remote Desktop Connection (available as a free download) so Mac users can use their XP machines across the network (keeping their noisy PCs off their desk).

The current options for OS X are Apple’s quality, but spendy option of Apple Remote Desktop (which is really designed for system administrators) less-expensive third-party offerings like Timbuktu, and the free, but not simple VNC solutions.

The Apple Remote Desktop Client is already built into OS X and it has VNC capability, giving users a simple way to enable their computer for ‘remote’ viewing and control. Now all we need is a viewing/controlling application included in the Utilities folder. It should be more capable and easier to use than Chicken of the VNC but needn’t be much more advanced than the MacBU’s Remote Desktop Connection. Keeping it from doing too much should prevent it from causing competition for third-party products (which still exist for PC, despite the inclusion of RDC in XP Pro) but be better than current freeware/shareware solutions.

5. Refresh keystroke/toolbar button for Finder windows

Nearly every major revision of OS X has touted an “improved Finder” and one of the improvements has been the updating of folder contents. But there are still occasions where a file has been updated and its appearance in a Finder window goes unaltered. Windows toolbars have a refresh button that can be used to update the contents of the window. Since Apple has already copied the concept of making Finder windows look and act like browser windows (forward/backward buttons) they should add a refresh or reload button. They wouldn’t even have to create a new toolbar button icon, since they could just use the one from Safari. They could even use the same keyboard shortcut, since Command-R is currently unused in the Finder. Ideally, a refresh button shouldn’t be needed in the Finder at all, but we’ve seen four major revisions of OS X and it still hasn’t become unnecessary.

6. Expanded Finder View Options

If you open a folder of images in Windows, it can automatically view in Thumbnails mode, giving you a good overview of all the images. There is also the useful Filmstrip mode, allowing for much larger viewing of images without the need of a separate application. OS X requires you to change the view options to Show icon preview. It’s great to have the option, but it’s even better to have the OS do the work for me.

Also in Windows, if you choose to view in Details mode (analogous to the Mac’s List view) it will list relevant data like Date Photographed, Image Dimensions, etc. If the folder is full of movies or audio files, different relevant data like Length is available to sort by. Considering that Spotlight indexes all of that data (check out the More Info area of the Get Info window), the Finder’s List view is woefully outdated, providing sortability only by a limited number of values that have existed since System 7. Also many files nowadays (mp3s, jpegs, psds) have metadata built right into the file that would be useful to see in list view and sort by.

7. Multiple Undos in the Finder

This is the last Finder request of this article, I promise. The Undo command is a useful one in any application. But even more useful is multiple levels of Undo. (Anyone else remember when there was only one level of Undo in Photoshop?)

The Finder gained an Undo command in OS X, which was welcome. But let’s say you rename a file and move it to a new location. But now you’ve changed your mind (or someone else changed theirs). If you hit Undo, it will only move the file back, it will not change its name back. Similarly, say you create a new folder and name it ‘Stuff for tomorrow’ and then you change your mind because you realize there aren’t enough items to warrant creating a new folder. If you hit Command-Z, it will only undo the renaming of the folder and change it back to ‘untitled folder,’ you cannot undo the creation of the folder.

With Macs sporting dual-core processors and gigabytes of RAM, how hard would it be for OS X to remember just two levels of Undo?

8. Resize windows from more than just bottom-right corner

A longstanding feature of Windows is that any side or corner of a window can be used to resize it, contrary to the Mac method of only being able to use the bottom-right corner. The problem with the Mac method is that if you have a window on the right side of your screen and you want to make it larger, you first have to drag the window to the left and then drag the bottom-right corner to enlarge it. Similarly, if the bottom of the window is already at the bottom of the screen, but you want to make the window taller, you first have to drag the window up, then drag the bottom-right corner to enlarge it. A two-step process that should only require one step. Additionally, because you are dragging a corner, you can never simply make a window only wider or only taller (unless you have single-pixel-accurate mousing abilities). Adding more resizing capabilities to windows would provide more choices for Mac users and pacify Windows switchers who find the classic Mac way of doing things to be unnecessarily limiting.

9. System Restore

Have you ever installed a system update and then discovered it was incompatible with a certain piece of software? Because you can’t uninstall system updates, security updates or even some application updates, the only solution is to do an Archive & Install using your OS X disc and then apply all the interim updates just to go back to the version you were using mere hours prior.

Even if Windows didn’t have a System Restore feature that lets you go back in time to an older version of the system, OS X should provide a way to “rewind” the system to a prior moment. Leopard’s upcoming Time Machine functionality looks like a step in that direction, but it seems to be only for recovering individual files and folders from a former time. Prove me wrong, Apple. Prove me wrong.

Add these nine Windows features to the previous 10 Classic features, the 10 currently known Leopard features and the remaining “top secret” feature(s) and Leopard would be a can’t-miss upgrade.

208 Responses to “Windows features OS X should ‘adopt’”

  1. “Resizing windows from every corner is an overkill and a waste of time. “

    “Who’s time? Hunting for a resize corner is a waste of my time, and not snapping windows is a waste of my time.”


    Hunting? For what? The same location – on every window – in every application. Do you also “hunt” for your “enter” or “return” key? Do you “hunt” for your “addess bar” or “back button”. A fixed location for a fixed function makes sense.

  2. Great writeup..Now I’ll confess Im a windows power user, BUT I do admire the smooth elegance of the OSX GUI. Ive tried Apple computers at times during work and many of the things you mention in your article are things that irked me about OSX.

  3. “If it should have more than one button, then how many should it have? One for the regular click, one for control-click, one for shift-click, one for command-click, one for option-click, another for option-shift click….?

    See where I’m going with this?”

    Yeah, I see what you did there, you’re trying to make an argument based on false assumptions. The only modifier+click that’s used heavily is ctrl+click, which should be available as right click on laptops. (like it is on apple brand stand-alone mice, I bet the majority of users would pay over $50 alone for this ‘upgrade’ on an mbp)

    “Resizing windows from every corner is an overkill and a waste of time. ”

    Who’s time? Hunting for a resize corner is a waste of my time, and not snapping windows is a waste of my time.

    “The Refresh button idea is not only pointless but retarded. There is no reason, OS X or Windows should not update live.”

    I agree with this one, but after 6 years of failure, maybe the OS X devs should give up and allow the user to refresh instead of having a broken out-of-date finder window. Either admit defeat and give the user more control or do it right.

  4. “And put another damned mouse button on the MacBook. Just… get over it.”

    Jesus just put a second finger on the track pad! THEN CLICK! Haven’t you ever used a MacBook????

  5. Speaking of shared folders… make a folder with an action or automator workflow- sit it on the desktop or drag an alias to it in your finder window. The action can be to move the folder to the user public folder. Now drag-drop- done. Eveything in one place.

  6. I don’t understand the problem.

    If it should have more than one button, then how many should it have? One for the regular click, one for control-click, one for shift-click, one for command-click, one for option-click, another for option-shift click….?

    See where I’m going with this?

    Of the modified mouse clicks, I use control-click maybe just a third of the time. I’m using one of the other modifiers the rest of the time. Adding a second mouse button won’t make those other clicks any easier.

  7. Funny, most of the things you say OS X needs I think Windows does completely wrong. I am a mac user forced to use Windows at work for the the past ten years. MOving things in windows is a pain, cut and paste or not. Everything takes place in one Window most of the time.

    Click to open Window
    navigate , find, cut navigate back, click new location, navigate in – paste.

    Or APPLE + N open window, find file drag to destination. Cut and paste doesn’t even make sense in the physical world. This is why Apple doe not use it. It’s not that no one “will get it” it’s that it is bad practice. Of course, Windows users find this more efficient, because you are use to taking the long way home.

    I would agree with the Remote Desktop function – Apple’s lack of this annoys the hell out of me.

    Resizing windows from every corner is an overkill and a waste of time. That is like saying let’s put back buttons on every corner of the borwser because I am too lazy to reach for the one that already exists.

    Multiple Undos? Why? So you can umdo, undo, undo, uh where the heck was I to begin with. By the time you undo 5 times (most likely something like moving a file around) you could easily just drag to file to where you want it again. Another Windows only logic here… using multiple undos because the actual “do’ took more steps than you would rather “do” again.

    The Refresh button idea is not only pointless but retarded. There is no reason, OS X or Windows should not update live. Expecting a user to refresh is an insult to a modern operating system. What am I refreshing anyway? I just dragged in 10 files in a finder window, renamed all of them, and then dragged them out- the finder updated instantly.

    The shared folder issue might seem like a downfall to Windows people, but I personally like that ALL my shared stuff is is one location instead of scattered all over the OS. This is more secure, more organized, and works the way a directory should. I always the know the path, I always knwo the purpose, and I usually know the content because I took time to put it there.

  8. So, the words “cut and paste” mean one thing in every application, but mean something else entirely in the Finder? Why?

    Again, Cut & Paste doesn’t make enough sense, and not simply enough, for me to think it should be included.

    Imagine trying to explain it to my mom. That’s just not going to happen. She’s a very object-oriented person, and even after having used two iMacs over seven years, she’ll take a long time to grasp cut & paste in the Finder. She has no problem with it in PageMaker or Pages or Photoshop or iMovie or anything else, though.

    We’re all geeks here. We all know more about OSes than most people walking down the street. What we CAN’T do is make something as convoluted as we’re capable of imagining.

    Remember the original Mac ads? Something about “the computer for the rest of us.”

  9. There’s obviously a lot of parallels between the two OS’s, even among the “experts” there are many features that have parity on both systems that you guys don’t even know about. It’s hilarious reading through this stuff!

  10. @Matthew Smith

    When you cut and paste files in XP, the file is not deleted, only until it is pasted is it deleted. When you cut the file(s) they become transparent looking letting you know they are cut, if you go and cut/copy something else before pasting the files they just go back to looking solid instead of transparent. Cut and paste basically works as a move file command.

  11. In OS X, I find it very useful to be able to select multiple files and copy A LIST OF THE FILES AS TEXT into the clipboard. Windows cannot do this and if you made OS X work like Windows you would kill this feature on a Mac. Also, I dare you to ‘copy’ some files that are currently open in Windows and then try to paste into a text document (something very easy to do accidentally) … it took ten minutes for that mess to clear up.

    And please, Apple, DO NOT make your finders list view work anything like the Windows detailed view. In Windows, you sort by name, but folders are still grouped together (Lame), you sort by size, but it can’t compute a folder’s size (Lame), you add a file to that folder, it’s at the end of the list and YOU HAVE TO refresh or re-sort… LAME LAME LAME

    System Restore & Multiple Undos == Time Machine

    PS. I use both platforms extensively and can only stand XP when it’s in classic mode.

  12. Being stuck with only being able to resize windows in the corner is a constant frustration. Worse, several times, whether because of bugs or who knows, I’ve gotten windows into a state where it was bigger than the screen vertically, so it wasn’t even *possible* to get to the resize corner. You have to either close the window, or, if you’re lucky, the green button will put the whole window back on the screen. Frames are not unaesthetic unless you’re incredibly picky, and I’ll take function over form any day. My computer is a tool, not a piece of art.

  13. Cut/pasting files does not work the same way as cut/pasting text. When working with files, only a reference to the file is stored in the clipboard. If you cut another file before pasting your original cut, only the reference is replaced, not the actual file.

  14. I can’t believe he said system restore ….lol..well i hope you understand that leopard is rapped in a svn called time machine

    me personly would like gui support for NFS but thats just me!

  15. I think the best way to implement the AppZapper functionality is to add a behavior to the Trash can when you drag an App into it. You drag an App to the trash, the system automatically finds the addittional files that has to erase aditionally. I dont think this is too complicated. :) and keeps the actual simplicity of the process

  16. Do a little more research next time. Time Machine supports restoring your entire system to a previous point in time. It also supports backing up to a remote server and the ability to reconstruct your entire hard drive if it gets corrupted, or even stolen.

    “With Time Machine, you can restore your whole system from any past backups and peruse the past with ease. … When you find the file you want, just select it and restore it. Time Machine brings it into the present. You can do the same with a group of files, whole folders, even your entire system.” — http://www.apple.com/macosx/leopard/timemachine.html

    As for multiple undo in the Finder, as long as it uses Core Data the undo functionality will be available ‘for free’ (as they’re fond of saying about Core Data). Presumably an updated Finder will use the new frameworks in Mac OS X, so this is almost a given.

    Number 3 would be incredibly easy. You could probably do it with an Automator action, creating a symlink to the folder from your Shared folder to the currently selected item.

  17. Your list would ruin a mac. You want Apple to remove the ‘pixie dust’ from OSX. OSX is a great operating system designed for the market that Apple sells into.

    May I suggest you stop using a Mac. It would be better for all involved if you just went back to using a PC.

  18. Honestly… the lack of a finder cut/paste operation is probably THE most frustrating part of Mac OS. As for your point Leland, when you cut a file in Windows, essentially it is on the clipboard… however, if you then copy or cut something else, the file is not lost, but instead returned to its previous folder.

  19. My List:

    #1: OS X is a terrible multi-monitor OS. I have 3 monitors, an open app’s menu bar can be over 2400 pixels away; this is simply poor design, at the very least allow a menu bar per monitor. The current bit of design cruft made sense when monitors were less than 500x and 9×9 or so, but the current menu bar model is just embarrassing.

    #2: There is no utility to snap windows at an OS level.

    #3: Critically poor handling of file sharing. If there is a network share that becomes unavailable (wifi etc) the finder can freak out and lock up completely. This is poor style. Connecting to samaba shares is also painfully slow and the finder window does not update correctly (and there is no refresh as the article points out)

    #4: There are no utilities to resize windows automagically (like utils xp, keystrokes to make the window half the size of the monitor and snap to the left for instance)

    #5: itunes is generally a piece of crap, is slow etc. iTunes auto updating added media to a folder would be a start.

    #6: The interface is generally sluggish, it needs more a more snappy feel. (on a dual core)

  20. Application Uninstall is a questionable need. Sure AppZapper and CleanApp are basically application uninstallers. However, if an App or tool installs itself in a way that can’t be removed by simply taking the Application Icon and dragging it to the trash, then I would suggest making sure the Install App has an uninstall option. I really wouldn’t want an average user trying to decipher some of the files they would have to in order to remove addons and such that are not installed in the Applications folder.

    System Restore is evil and should not come anywhere near OS X! My father used it to jump back to a time when a virus wasn’t on his system. He thought that would be a good way to deal with it. It wiped out changes well past a virus getting into the system and took out his internet drivers and settings.

    It took me about 30 minutes to get the system even close to the way it was before and I’m sure the virus is still in there.

    If Time Machine does what System Restore did, I’m sure it will do it much better and safer or it won’t do it at all.

  21. I am both a Windows user and a MacOS X user.

    “One of the biggest differences between Mac and Windows users is that Mac users typically drag-and-drop their files to move them from one place to another while Windows users cut-and-paste them”

    Have you seen studies that show that is how Windows users manage files? How are you drawing these conclusions? As a Windows user, I use drag and drop. As a Mac user, I can say that you can already do this.

    “removing both the application and its associated files strewn around the system”

    Since when do uninstallers regularly clean up after themselves well? I would say it is as often as an application on a Mac worth writing an uninstaller for. I haven’t even looked at free/used space on my computers for years. Do we really need to worry about that sort of thing? What about the gigabytes that Windows installs without options to remove? At least on MacOS X they are named well and put in well named folders.

    “apply its pixie dust (see SoundJam -> iTunes)”

    SoundJam was and is an amazing application. iTunes is arguably no better. It’s simplified, but you lose so much power.

    “Individual Folder Sharing”

    Windows litters the whole experience with ‘shared folders’ all over. This is before *any* manual shares by users. One could argue that pre-made shared folders (however much more discrete in the Mac case) lead to a much better user experience. You don’t have orphaned shared folders all over the system requiring a relatively complicated application to find, you have much more consistency, and you don’t have to mess with permissions. I think a better solution would be better integration of symlinks.

    “Refresh keystroke/toolbar button for Finder windows”

    I think a better option would be to fix the file change monitoring.

    “it can automatically view in Thumbnails mode”

    I find that I more often than not am unpleasantly surprised when Windows chooses the ‘best’ way to view my files. I set a *global default* in folder options, yet it ignores this. I believe Leopard is getting ‘quick slideshow’ and much better file viewing.

    “Multiple Undo’s in the Finder”

    I hope it doesn’t end up being as mysterious as Window’s global multiple undo where the menu item is “Undo Move” and it’s left up to me what file/folder that is.

    “longstanding feature of Windows is that any side or corner of a window can be used to resize it”

    In MacOS Classic, you could drag any side of the window to move it, allowing you to move the title bar out of view, better mouse-locality, etc. One could argue either way for hours, but in the end, it’s ugly and wastes space. I don’t like it. How often do you find yourself resizing windows anyway? And if you don’t have single pixel mouse movement abilities, 3 or 4 would be pushing it also.

    “System Restore”

    Ah yes, another mysterious Windows feature. This often ends up doing more harm than good. When it’s really necessary to use, i.e.: Windows wont boot, it’s pretty crazy hard to find/hard to use, especially for novices. Not to mention the fact that when you need to use it there’s probably a deeper issue at hand that a System Restore wont fix, so its just taking up huge amounts of disk space and computing time to run. I disable it every time I reinstall Windows, and I have never once wished I hadn’t. Side note: I have never had to reinstall OSX.

  22. Some guy

    http://www.apple.com/macosx/leopard/ichat.html

    Share and share alike
    Remote control takes on a whole new meaning with iChat in Leopard. Thanks to iChat Screen Sharing, you and your buddy can observe and control a single desktop via iChat, making it a cinch to collaborate with colleagues, browse the Web with a friend, or pick the perfect plane seats with your spouse. Share your own desktop or share your buddy’s — you both have complete control at all times. And when you start a Screen Sharing session, iChat automatically initiates an audio chat so you can talk things through while you’re at it.